The Dreaded Fitness Headache

Jun 27, 2014

By Christine Dailey

You want a workout to leave you with sore muscles and a burst of energy, not a splitting headache! Exercise can help you beat headaches, but it can also trigger them. They’re called exertional headaches.


Headaches occur when blood vessels are inflamed or there’s tension in the facial and neck muscles. Typically, regular exercise reduces and prevents common headaches due to the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, which improve blood flow to the brain as well as reduce muscle tension.

However, sometimes exercise can trigger headaches and be a common exercise side effect for many people. But you shouldn’t let that stop you from getting your workout in! There are multiple things that can cause a fitness headache and can be hard to pinpoint. While it’s not 100% clear how exercise can trigger these headaches, some contributors are low blood sugar, dehydration, lack of sleep or lack of a proper warm-up. So here are some tips to avoid the dreaded exercise headache to ensure you’re able to reach your fitness goals.

  • Stay hydrated throughout the day! Not drinking enough water is a major contributor to the common headache. During your workout you’re losing more water than you think. Make sure you sip on water throughout your entire workout, especially in the hot summer months. It’s crucial that you replenish all fluids lost during exercise.
  • Eat a light snack before your workout. To prevent a sudden drop in blood sugar, eat a piece of fruit or some nuts before your workout. If you’re doing a long run, bring a gel packet to replenish sugars and keep the fuel burning.
  • Make sure to warm up and cool down properly. Jumping straight into exercise can trigger headaches for many people. Instead of jolting into a high-intensity workout, try easing yourself into it by starting with a slow warm-up comprised of stretching, walking, a light jog or bike. Do the same thing at the end to ensure your body has time to cool down.
Create your routine carefully. Sudden increases in workout intensity can trigger headaches. So, if you’re just starting an exercise routine make sure to ramp up slowly and tailor your workouts to what you can handle. If you’re unsure what the best routine is for you, a private trainer can help put together a custom workout routine that will help you achieve the results you’re looking for.